Katy bourbon company donating portion of profits to military charities

By George Slaughter, News Editor
Posted 11/10/22

Semper Fidelis, or always faithful, is the U.S. Marine Corps motto. A Katy bourbon company is working to follow that motto it donates a portion of its profits to organizations supporting military members and their families.

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Katy bourbon company donating portion of profits to military charities

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Semper Fidelis, or always faithful, is the U.S. Marine Corps motto. A Katy bourbon company is working to follow that motto it donates a portion of its profits to organizations supporting military members and their families.

Big Stick Spirits is headquartered in Katy, but its bourbon, like that of many other bourbon companies, is made in Kentucky.

The mash used to make the bourbon is a proprietary, 95 proof blend. Among other honors, it won a gold medal at the Denver International Spirits Competition and a silver medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, both held this year.

“I’m thinking all the craft brands all started out at the same three or four distilleries in Kentucky,” Mike Ryan, company president, said. “They all buy from the same place and I researched the supply chain. There are three or four major suppliers, and all you do is you buy a barrel from them.”

The bourbon then goes to Liberty Hill, near Austin, where it is labeled and prepared for shipment to liquor stores.

If Big Stick Spirits is not a family business in fact, it certainly is in spirit. Ryan and his business partner, Joe Baker, are close friends and worked together on defense projects when Baker served, first in the Marines, then in the Department of Defense.

Ryan said their wives, Shawn Ryan and Melissa Baker, have been close friends since grade school in Houston. Joe and Melissa Baker, along with Shawn Ryan, all attended the University of Texas at Austin.

Ryan, meanwhile, is from the Midwest and is an engineer. He worked with the military, though he never served in uniform.

“I was sort of like a military contractor, if you will,” Ryan said. “I got to work with all the people in the Armed Forces, a lot of the pilots, a lot of the weapons designers, things like that.”

Ryan came to Texas in the mid-1980s. Years ago, he read a career guidebook, What Color Is Your Parachute, and he took an evaluation test to help him decide what he wanted to do with his life and career.

One result of this, Ryan said, was that he wanted to move to the South, where there would be no more snow.

“And then I wound up in Houston, Texas,” Ryan said. “Interestingly, I moved here some 30 years ago and it was pretty much over the Easter weekend, and it snowed that weekend in Houston. God has a sense of humor, right? I just have to laugh about it. The weekend I got here, the next morning I woke up and there was snow on the ground.”

The idea for the company came after Ryan’s family moved to Katy about 15 or so years ago. They moved to Katy for the school district, he said. The lady from whom they were buying the house was downsizing, and made a request of the Ryans. The lady’s late husband had about 100 liquor bottles. Would it be OK to leave the bottles at the house? The Ryans said yes.

Ryan began cleaning out the bottles, plus those he had collected in his travels. Then, he got curious, and bought a chemistry set on Amazon.

“I got a notebook out and started experimenting with all kinds of different things, brought up all kinds of other brands and tried to figure out what was in them, how they were made, what was their mash bill,” Ryan said. From there, Ryan created the formula to create the bourbon.

Ryan then approached Baker, who is an attorney.

“I said, Joe, I have this idea for a company,” Ryan said. “I want to make bourbon. He said, I’m in.”

A quick decision on Baker’s part was unusual.

“He’s not the kind of guy that makes a snap decision,” Ryan said. “That’s not in his DNA and he said, I’m in. I said, but you haven’t heard how much is going to cost or what we have to do. He said it doesn’t matter, I’m in. I figured right there it was okay. I tell everybody I was nervous about having my best friend as my business partner, yes. But in terms of him being a world-class attorney and in my mind, I was a world-class engineer, so that was the perfect business marriage because Texas laws are very complicated and very restrictive, more so than many other states in the nation.”

The company supports Camp Hope PTSD Foundation, K9s for Warriors, the Marine Corps Coordinating Council, the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation, Semper Fi #3 Memorial Honor Guard Detail, Warrior Surf Foundation, and We Defy Foundation. More information on these groups is on the company website, bigstickspirits.com.

Big Stick Spirits, bourbon, veterans' groups

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